Adult Friendships: Making it Worth the Time

August 14, 2015

It used to be that all it took to be friends was shared circumstance: you go to school with the same people or grow up in the same neighborhood, you’re bound to hang out and learn to like each other (or, consequentially, swear to be enemies until the end of time). There are fewer conflicts of time: your parents pretty much control your schedule, and can decide to drop you off whenever and wherever they want. Your community is smaller, your group closer. Even with social media giving kids the opportunities to reach outside their neighborhood, their city, and their country, most are still governed by the same precedent concerning friendships. It’s effortless to be friends with children your age.

Friendship, Lions - Ouwehands Dierenpark Rhenen.
“Friendship, Lions” by Dirk-Jan Kraan

Circumstances change slightly when you’re a teenager and have a bit more control over your life; you can choose to drive out of town for the weekend… perhaps sneaking your girlfriend with you. A lot of friendships don’t survive the transition from twelve to fourteen years old as we develop a greater understanding of our interests and with whom we want to spend our time. The shared environment is still there – school and community – but choice plays a much larger role. I would say this trend continues through the university years, until that moment when you’re finally graduating and moving onwards. Perhaps to a completely different city, maybe not even leaving the zip code. But suddenly, everything about your friends changes in that one step.

What comes beyond that step is something I’m still struggling to understand. Many adults do. If we’re in a large company or work environment, we try to treat that as we would school: making friends over lunch, having fun when the supervisor isn’t paying close attention, maybe even hanging out and grabbing a pint after hours. But this doesn’t always work. With more of an individual nature at work, you might find yourself in circumstances where no one wants to be friends, let alone talk. Maybe they’re good people who are simply on a different path: you’re 23, and they’re 35 and married with two kids or 66 and about to retire. Not to mention the intricacies of dating or making platonic friends with members of the opposite sex.

Once you actually find someone who enjoys your company, the next challenge is moving past the superficial. Being more than acquaintances. Some are content to have work friends be nothing more than those they might share a small laugh at the water cooler. And that’s ok. But outside of work, the same high school mentality follows you, from joining a frisbee golf team to getting involved in community theater.

My point is that once you go through all this hooplah and find people who actually want to spend time with you whenever it’s convenient, that both of your lives may not necessarily allow you to be friends. You both work, and you both have to take the time to sit down and schedule events with each other. To me, that’s still embarrassingly rigid for being friends.

But I’ve done it. It’s just necessary in this world. Being friends is no longer as simple as walking home after class and deciding to stop for ice cream. After work, one of you has yoga, and the other needs to put in some overtime, or do laundry, or wash dishes, or pick up the car from being repaired. Little things that were never part of your childhood life not only eat up time in your adult life, but it seems as though friendships are the first area to suffer.

Granted, this is a matter of priorities: if friends are your first and foremost, then maybe you give up exercising. Or keeping your apartment in order. Or writing every day (a little close to home there). I’ve been torn in so many different directions during my time in Seattle that sometimes all I want to do is stay in and binge watch some series. My first priority is to my love, but she’s not always around. Second, to my health, which involves running, going to the gym, and keeping clean. Third, to my job, which provides the money for everything else. Then down the line somewhere are friends.

Because they aren’t at the top of the list – any maybe I’m not to them – I often find ways of mixing aspects of life as a pretense for hanging out: having my friends from Korea work gigs with me; volunteering to help at the Eat Your Kimchi meetup (ok, we’re not friends, but they’re good people). In the end, it comes down to incentives; whereas you didn’t need much motivation to spend time with childhood friends, when you’re older you can’t always see the need.

I guess this starts a few years after graduating, when you’re still in the mood to meet up for random nights of drunken antics. Eventually it just gets repetitive, and you start to narrow your list of friends to those who put in the effort to see you for you, and realize you can’t keep acquaintances on the hook for the same reason.

Understandable in this crazy world, but frustrating when all you want is to walk through an unlocked door and find someone sitting on the floor with soda and a Nintendo game ready to be played.

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